The Agony of Nothing

This blog post is the last issue of The Healing Journey, the letter I send out to subscribers. You may subscribe here to receive the email.

This past August my parents and our family suffered the loss of Maggie, our beloved Great Dane, to bone cancer. A few weeks after Maggie died my mother announced that she was getting a new puppy. I was surprised. When Maggie was deteriorating my mum had stated very clearly that she would never get another dog.

“You said you weren’t going to get another dog,” I reminded her.

“I know,” she answered, “But I can’t bear the agony of nothing.”

“The agony of nothing,” I repeated, impressed by her ability to name so aptly our existential human emptiness, “That’s it. Right there. That is what it all comes down to. If we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing–”

“We’re doomed!” she interjected.

That wasn’t exactly what I was going to say. I was going to say that if we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing then we are destined to get a puppy to make the pain go away. But what happens when the puppy dies and we are once again left with that “deep-down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no-hope, end-of-the-world, what’s-the-use loneliness”? (Thank you, Charlie Brown.)

Well, we can always find something else to temporarily relieve the dread. There is no shortage in today’s world: shopping, sex, TV, booze, dope, chocolate cake. On and on it goes.

Eventually those things stop working, too, and the Black Hole returns. What then? How do we bear the Agony of Nothing?

By spending time with it.

Yup. When when we stop trying to a-void the Void, when we make friends with the thing we fear most, it becomes transformed. Solitude is no longer lonely and Silence is no longer empty.

It takes great courage to do this. Exploring the foreign territory of our inner lives can be terrifying. It is the Great Unknown, after all. I myself have uncovered a hundred forms of fear living inside of me. By getting to know these fears intimately and confronting my terror head-on, their power has been massively reduced. And I’m happy to report that I have been liberated by at least eighty-seven of them. Maybe eighty-eight.

This is how healing actually happens. Interior freedom occurs when we walk through the fear rather than run from it, work with the pain rather than alter it. Entering fully into the Agony of Nothing creates, miraculously, the Possibility of Something. That Something is better than a puppy. Because it is, in fact, Everything.

Thus begins the astonishing process of living from our Everythingness instead of from the agony of our nothingness. And it is a process. And puppies are most definitely allowed.

From the fires of love,


Take me Higher

Dearest Readers,

Presently I am in Vancouver attending the PuSh Assembly on behalf of Sour Brides Theatre. Last night was the opening of the Assembly and the keynote was an artistic “manifesto” delivered by a performance artist named Julie Andrée T.

This young woman walked on stage with a bottle of wine and a glass and said, “I’m super scared,” and told us she was using the wine to help her deal with her fear. The bottle had been half drunk already.

Over the course of an hour she spoke to us occasionally, read to us from her laptop, played back recordings of manifestos by other artists she admires and made mournful sounds on a viola that rested on her lap. Slides of her naked and manipulated body in various compromising positions were projected behind her.

I am an artist and I have learned how to appreciate the work of other artists even if I do not “get” the work. Every artist is expressing his/her creative Self the only way he/she knows how. Some of us are stranger than others. Performance art is not easy to “get”. It doesn’t make sense to most of us the way a painting or a narrative play does. It challenges everything we know about our relationship to art and to one another. It takes us out of our comfort zones.

Probably a good thing, right? I suppose. Yes. In fact, emphatic yes. On the other hand, I’ve reached a point in my life where I am in need of art that inspires, uplifts, and transcends the darkness. I desperately need Light. I really do. I didn’t use to. All of my earliest plays are dark and full of despair.

Julie Andrée T. said, “I like the dark side. It inspires me.” Fair enough. I was the same. I still write about the pain and the grief. But now I offer healing and hope because I am healing and I have gained hope. So this is my process.

And this is why not only do I offer it to the audience but I seek it as well. I look for healing and hope in films. I look for it in leaders and mentors and other artists. I need to have my experience validated and I need to continue believing in transformation. It is what helps me to keep going, to give back, to feel joy and thankfulness in a challenging world.

I have a ticket to Rouge tomorrow night, Julie Andrée T.’s performance piece here at the festival. I’ve decided not to go. I do respect this woman. But I think I’ve seen enough.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Today I will seek the kinds of experiences which uplift me and validate my healing work. I will continue to choose things that bring me to the Light.